James Skene (1775-1864) was born in Scotland. He studied Law in Germany and was a friend of the distinguished Romantic writer Sir Walter Scott, with whom he explored their native land. During these wanderings, Skene made drawings of landscapes and medieval castles, which he published in 1829. From 1802 to 1816 Skene travelled in Europe, sketching the places he visited and subsequently publishing his impressions, in the form of extensive diaries. Later, Skene actively participated in his country’s cultural life, as a member of various scientific and artistic societies, and a collaborator of literary reviews.
In 1838, he journeyed to Greece with his large family, and stayed there for seven years. This audacious move was prompted by the marriage of his son Henry to a young Athenian lady of the Rangavis family. Moreover, as various members of his family were struggling with health problems, it had become advisable to look for a more salubrious climate. After a journey lasting one month, by way of Trieste, Corfu and the coast of the Peloponnese, the Skene family arrived in Athens in May 1838. They settled in a house of their own design in Ambelokipoi and took part in Athenian social life, frequenting diplomatic and court circles. Skene’s daughter Kate married another member of the Rangavis family, and his other daughter, Eliza, the Swedish consul in Athens.
Skene dedicated himself to painting and writing. He toured King Otto’s Greece, kept detailed journals of his impressions, and bequeathed us over five hundred drawings. His subjects include many Byzantine monuments that no longer exist. Most of Skene’s paintings are now in Scotland (National Gallery and Aberdeen Art Gallery), as well as in the British Museum and Bristol. In Greece, there is a collection of his paintings at the National Historical Museum, while a few works are in the possession of the Benaki Museum and one painting is held by the Museum of the City of Athens. One of his handwritten diaries, with numerous pencil drawings, is kept at the Academy of Athens. With his spare palette, without exaggeration and decorative human figures, Skene succeeds in rendering landscapes, monuments and the ambience of Greek scenery in his own unique way.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou